by Paul Anderson
What do we do when God’s plan no longer serves our purpose, when saying “yes” means trouble? I’m not much into pain. I’d accept suffering more easily if it didn’t hurt so much.
The cross is where we die, but before we die, there must be a decision to die. We must pass through Gethsemane on the way to Golgotha. The real battle is fought in the garden, not on the cross.
Gethsemane means “olive press.” God put the pressure on Jesus two thousand years ago, and the oil is still flowing. Olive oil had many uses in Bible days, some of which are still common today in the Middle East. It was used for lamps, for medicine, as money exchange, as a cosmetic, as food (a replacement for butter), in religious festivals, and in anointing. Olives can be eaten as they are, but the usefulness of the olive is seen best after it is crushed in a press and made into oil.
Gethsemane is where the pressure is on, where we are challenged to say, “Not my will but thine be done.” It is here that many Christians stop. They choose not to yield when it means the cross. They end up saying, “Not thy will, but mine be done.” They may still get to heaven, but they can no longer pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” and mean it.
From Jesus, we learn these things about our own Gethseminary training:
Vulnerability is a weapon of war. Satan was on the warpath-and Jesus knew it. He had said to the disciples that “the prince of this world is coming” (Jn.14:30). Well, Satan arrived. He had taken out Judas, he was sifting Simon, and now he was going after his arch-enemy, Jesus. This was his second major onslaught. The first came at the beginning of Christ’s ministry, and the devil was soundly defeated. Now he was back at the climax.
Jesus was at His weakest, not because of Satan’s presence, but because of what He was being called to do – to drink the awful cup of God’s wrath. Nowhere do we see the humanity of Jesus more clearly than in the Garden. Jesus took all the disciples with Him, then He asked Peter, James and John to stay close, saying to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (Matt.26:38). He is far more transparent than I could imagine the Son of Man being. In His darkest hour He confessed great need. Fights are so uncomfortable-and this was the worst fight ever.
Peter wasn’t sharing Christ’s struggle; he was asserting his allegiance. Jesus had just tried to warn Simon, but Peter was too cocky to listen. There are times when positive affirmation just doesn’t make it. While Peter was proclaiming confidence, Jesus was confessing need. Self-confidence does not lead to prayer; it leads to empty talk. Peter was volunteering for the army. He was going to bust those buzzards! It didn’t take long to show that he wasn’t much of a prophet.
We’d rather be strong than weak, in control than in trouble. If we’re struggling, we tend to keep it to ourselves, especially if we are males. Satan loves to isolate us in our trials. Jesus shared His heart with His closest friends. Let us do the same.
Struggles are a positive sign. A new Christian once called me, discouraged that she was having strong negative feelings about family conflicts. I asked her if she had had those feelings before becoming a Christian. She answered, “No, it didn’t concern me.” “Then, isn’t it good you are having the struggle now?” I asked. She agreed, and that ended the three-minute telephone counseling session. We often interpret struggles as an intrusion or as a negative sign. In fact, the greater the call, the deeper the conflict. Jesus battled while the disciples slept. The battle of the wills (God’s and mine) shows that we are engaged in the fight. It is not a sign of defeat, but a token that we are in the contest, and sometimes it is ferocious. Jesus fought to the point of sweating blood.
Evan Roberts cried all night after the Lord had called him to lead the Welch revival. He knew it would cost him everything. These aren’t the kinds of struggles that bring holy goose bumps; rather, they bring holy sweat. Will God have His way or will I? Can I pray, “Not my will, but God’s be done?” That’s the prayer that arises when I am in Gethseminary training.
“Let him who thinks he is standing take heed lest he fall” (I Cor.10:12). Let him who thinks victory is a cake-walk stay out of the ring, because he is sure to get knocked out anyway. Peter underestimated the conflict and lost big. Jesus fought the fight of faith and triumphed.
We engage the fight through prayer. Jesus told the disciples when they entered the Garden, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation” (Lk.22:40). In the face of conflict, Jesus prescribed prayer, the kind that honestly confesses weakness. The battle was raging, Satan was advancing-and the disciples were sleeping. After St. Paul described the armor we are to wear, he writes, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayer…” (Eph.6:18).
How many times have we lost a conflict because we failed to pray through to victory? We are not trying to find God’s will but to do it. This isn’t the prayer of guidance; it is the prayer of surrender. Jesus had said, “My food is to do the will of him who went me…” (Jn.4:34). It was His delight. And yet doing the Father’s will at this point meant the cross, and Jesus endured the cross-He didn’t enjoy it. When the going gets tough, the tough get-praying. The cross is never fun. And the path to Calvary always goes through the Garden.
If we start the fight at the cross, it’s too late. The time, friends, to put the armor on is not when you hear the guns going off. Pray-before the important meeting, before the challenge at work, before the date, wherever or whenever you know that your will will be challenged. And please understand, Jesus was not going after Satan; He was going after God. James, who knew about spiritual warfare, said, “Submit yourselves then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Js.4:7). Submission is the highest form of spiritual warfare. Peter was in a fighting mood, but he fought with the wrong weapon at the wrong level for the wrong reasons. I am embarrassed to confess that I have all too often planned, or promoted, or pleaded, or practiced, or preached, or processed, or pummeled-when I should have prayed. God, forgive my stupidity!
The Lord Jesus, sleep deprived and in deep anguish of soul, did not nap-“he prayed more earnestly” (Luke 22:44). Hebrews says that “he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears…” (5.7). He almost died, but He was saved so He could die at Golgotha, not at Gethsemane. He shed drops of blood in the Garden, but it was the blood of the cross that would bring redemption. His submission in the Garden was absolute. Hebrews calls it a “reverent submission.”
Victory tastes sweet. Isaiah wrote some stirring words about Jesus: “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer…After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied” (Is.53:10,11). An olive crushed, the oil released, a soul satisfied.
Defeat was bitter for Peter to swallow. He entered the fight all right-an hour late. He drew the sword that Jesus had referenced only moments before (Lk.22:38), presuming that it was to be used. But Jesus had already faced His battle, and He had confronted the Roman cohort with total calm, and he had not needed a sword. We don’t battle against flesh and blood, but that was where Peter engaged the contest, and that is where we will fight if we haven’t had it out in prayer first. Peter got rebuked for one thing he thought he was good at-fighting. He had gotten his nap, but he paid for it later, and failure does not taste good.
The big conflict is with God: will He have His way, or will I have mine? It is not with the spouse, the boss, the relative, or the church member. It boils down to this: will I let God crush me to produce oil? Will I yield to His purposes? Can I keep my mouth shut when my flesh says, “Defend yourself?” Can I accept criticism because I have determined to have an unoffendable heart?
Our battle in the Garden has the potential to produce oil only because our pioneer broke through and won for us. Adam #1 met the enemy in the garden and lost big; Adam #2 met His enemy in another garden, had it out, and won big. We ride in on His obedience. “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19).
You can’t run on emotions during your Gethseminary training, because what you feel is the inclination to turn back. And positive thinking won’t do it either. The fight will be bitter, but nothing feels better than victory.
Olives taste okay, but they can’t match olive oil for usefulness. A friend of mine once told me, “I have come to the place where if I know what God wants me to do, I will do it regardless.” He had passed his Gethseminary. God had squeezed him-and the oil was flowing. May it be also for you and me.
Let Anyone with Ears to Hear, Listen!
by Dallas Willard
Our ability to recognize God’s voice in our souls and to distinguish it with practical certainty from other competing voices is acquired by effort and experimentation – both on God’s part and ours. It does not come automatically by divine imposition and command.
Those who really want to live under God’s guidance and who by proper teaching or other special provision made by God become convinced that he will speak and perhaps is speaking to them can proceed to learn through experience the particular quality, spirit and content of God’s voice. They will then distinguish and understand the voice of God; their discernment will not be infallible, but they will discern his voice as clearly and with as much accuracy as they discern the voice of any other person with whom they are on intimate terms.
I emphasize once again that this does not mean that they will always correctly understand what God says to them or even that it will be easy for them to get his message straight. One great cause of confusion is that people make infallibility a condition of hearing God. It helps, I believe and hope, to understand that God’s word is communication and that communication occurs constantly in contexts where infallibility is completely out of the question.
The infallibility of the speaker – as is in the case when God is the speaker – does not and need not guarantee infallibility of the hearer. But fortunately, as we all know, speakers who are not even close to being perfect still communicate reliably and regularly. I know my children’s voices well and would recognize them under a very wide range of circumstances. Generally I understand what they say. But I would know it was one of them speaking even if I could not understand what was said. (This has actually happened on numerous occasions!)
Indeed careful study of personal relationships show that recognition of a certain voice is often the cue for someone to stop listening or even to distort the message in particular ways that are relevant to the specific nature of the relationship between the people involved. I am convinced that this often happens in the divine-human conversation, and it almost always happens when God speaks to those who are in covert rebellion against him.
One of Jesus’ deepest teachings concerned the manner in which we hear. This is so important that it cannot be emphasized enough. Specifically, Jesus alerted his hearers to the fact that they might not be using their ears simply for hearing but for other purposes as well – such as to filter and manage the message so it fits better their own lives and purposes. “‘Let anyone with ears to hear, listen!’ And he said to them, ‘Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away'” (Mark 4:23-25). Listening is an active process that may select or omit from, as well as reshape, the message intended by the speaker. Both listening and our other ways of perceiving turn out to be fundamental displays of our character, our freedom and our bondages.
Those who really do not want to hear what God has to say – no matter what they may say to the contrary – will position themselves before God in such a way “that they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven” (Mark 4:12). If we do not want to be converted from our chosen and habitual ways, if we really want to run our own lives without any interference from God, our very perceptual mechanisms will filter out his voice or twist it to our own purposes.
The doleful reality is that very few human beings really do desire to hear what God has to say to them. This is shown by how rarely we listen for his voice when we are not in trouble or when we are not being faced with a decision that we do not know how to handle. People who understand and warmly desire to hear God’s voice will, by contrast, want to hear it when life is uneventful just as much as they want to hear it when they are facing trouble or big decisions. This is a test that we should all apply to ourselves as we go in search of God’s word: do we seek it only under uncomfortable circumstances? Our answer may reveal that our failure to hear his voice when we want to is due to the fact that we do not in general want to hear it, that we want it only when we think we need it.
Usually those who want a word from God when they are in trouble cannot find it. Or at least they have no assurance that they have found it. This is, I think, because they do not first and foremost simply want to hear God speaking in their lives in general. At heart they only want to get out of trouble or to make the decisions that will be best for them. I have spoken with many who think of divine communication only as something to help them avoid trouble.
That we lack the desire to receive God’s word merely for what it is, just because we believe it is the best way to live, is also shown by a disregard of the plain directives in the Scriptures. Sanctification from sexual uncleanness (I Thess. 4:3) and a continuously thankful heart ( I Thess. 5.18) are among the many specific things clearly set forth in God’s general instructions to all people. It is not wise to disregard these plain directives and then expect to hear a special message from God when we want it.
I do not mean to say that God absolutely will not, in his mercy, communicate and instruct those who have departed from the general guidance, the Word, he has given. Contrary to the well-meaning works of the blind man whom Jesus healed (Jn. 9:31), God does on occasion “listen to sinners, ” and he speaks to them as well. But this cannot be counted on as part of a regular and intelligible plan for living in a conversational relationship with God. Anyone who rejects the general counsels of Scripture is in fact planning not to be guided by God and cannot then rely on being able to be delivered from their difficulties by obtaining God’s input on particular occasions.
Many people, however, honestly desire God’s word both in its own right and because God knows it is best for us. As part of their total plan for living in harmony with God, these believers adopt the general counsels of Scripture as the framework within which they are to know his daily graces. These people will most assuredly receive God’s specific, conscious words through the inner voice to the extent that it truly is appropriate in helping them become more like Christ. There is a limit to which such guidance is appropriate, and we will return to this point later. But it is true in general, as G. Campbell Morgan has written, that “wherever there are hearts waiting for the Voice of God, that Voice is to be heard.”
Taken from Hearing God by Dallas Willard. © 1984, 1993,1999 by Dallas Willard. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press; P.O. Box 1400; Downers Grove, IL 60515.
Dallas Willard, Ph.D is a professor and former director of the School of Philosophy at the University of Southern California. He is a best-selling author of more than thirty publications including Hearing God, The Divine Conspiracy, Renovation of the Heart and The Spirit of the Disciplines. He and his wife, Jane, live in Chatsworth, California.
The Process or “How Do We Get There From Here?”
by Paul Anderson
Joseph and David were seventeen when the Lord gave them prophetic words about their future. Thirteen years later the prophecies were fulfilled. The words contained nothing about the process they would go through. Between a word spoken to us about where God is taking us and the fulfillment of that word is the journey, the process. Living words, like the dream to Joseph and the prophetic word to David, fill us with joyful expectancy.
The process, however, takes us out of the heights and into the depths. Receiving a word is one thing; walking it out is another altogether. The revelation happens at a point in time. In the process we must put one foot in front of the other-slowly, deliberately, often painfully. The mood of the process is different from the mood when we received the word. It is the difference between going to a conference and getting blessed by new revelations of truth and waking up the Monday after and realizing that life is back to normal. Eureka! The light went on. We felt lifted, emancipated by the epiphany, but now we need to go to work. We need to integrate new truth into our lives, walking it out until what is in our head becomes incarnated reality.
To help us process truth, we need to know that…
The event and the process are different. St. Paul said, “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him…” Reception, like birth, is an event; walking, like growth, is a process.
Truth is two-edged. God doesn’t speak the whole truth in one word. He cuts with this side of the sword, then the other side. Balance comes with the integration of the word into our lives. Jesus used shock treatment so that truth could break into hard hearts. He spoke of the need to hate one’s father and mother in order to be a good disciple. Did He literally mean to hate mom and dad? No. His word required proper interpretation, just as any breakthrough word does.
Teachers like Graham Cooke speak with a prophetic edge, constantly challenging the status quo, and we must listen to the message with that in mind. When we feel devastated by a breakthrough teaching, it worked. We need our hearts plowed up so the seed can be planted in good soil. We must be careful that we neither over-react nor under-react. God’s word often comes as a corrective to where we are living. Even when it is judgment, it comes as encouragement, as the writer of Hebrews says, “And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you…'” (Heb.12:5). So we neither despair from the words we hear, nor do we disregard them. To despair is a soulish response, which puts the requirement for growth with me, taking myself too seriously and God not seriously enough. Truth comes as both judgment and mercy. To hear only the judgment is to be killed but not revived. Some don’t want the judgment because they don’t plan to change or they believe they are unable to. To hear only mercy means that there is no death, and therefore, no resurrection. Both are needed, and yet “mercy triumphs over judgment,” because the seed that has fallen into the ground brings forth abundantly.
Truth that liberates kills. The first commandment calls us to the slaying of idols. A breakthrough teacher is an instrument of destruction. Graham went after our sacred cows, like church buildings, vision statements, pastoral leaders, organizational structures, models, answers, and techniques. He was the spokesman of the God who says, “I kill and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal” (Deut. 32:39). If we are slain by the word of God, then we can expect the resurrection to follow. As a friend of mine says, “God offends the mind to reveal the heart.” This is a new concept for many of us, because we were raised by kind pastors. The prophets have been conspicuous by their absence in our upbringing. The church desperately needs the five-fold ministries!
Truth has its time. Prophetic words need to be weighed not only for their truth but also for their timing. We are on a journey. To get from point a to point d, we must first go to point b. Some prophetic words are not meant to be applied in the present; they are words of hope for the future. People are sometimes dismayed by prophetic words that appear to have no reference point in the present and no hope for applicability. Biblical truth sees time as having content. The Greek word for time as content is “kairos,” while the word for measured time is “chronos.” When the Scriptures say, “The time is fulfilled,” it is speaking of time as kairos. Every prophetic word has its kairos time. We don’t force a fulfillment by our planning; we wait for the right time. The agricultural analogy, so common in the teaching of Jesus, clearly shows the processing of truth and the divine initiative in its outworking: “All by itself the soil produces grain-first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head” (Mk.4:28).
We walk by faith. We don’t hop. Walking can be boring, but it gets us there. We can’t do everything at once. The more powerful the teacher, the more devastated we can feel, as we realize that our realities are miles apart. We must humbly pray, “Thank you, Lord, for revealing yourself to me so that I can move into my inheritance-one step at a time. Show me what the next step is. Give me patience to walk, not run. I believe that You gave me this truth to put courage into me, not to take it out of me. I will begin where you show me. I will not despise the day of small things. I celebrate the destruction of sacred cows that needed to die-obsolete structures, overused ideas, and outworn techniques. I choose to walk this journey, like Abraham, in faith of what is before me.”
The journey begins with repentance. John and Jesus both preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” A good place to start after a conference is with repentance. Burying our cows means that we won’t trip over them. We acknowledge that we have often depended upon the wrong things, found security in our systems, made decisions out of expediency, and listened to people more than God. We commit to living by revelation, waiting upon God, and finding our security in Him. This brings the kingdom near.
We are traveling with friends. I am not good at processing; I need my friends to help me. I can’t do it alone, nor can any leader. We need each other at every stage of the journey and, certainly, in the processing of new information.